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Study Ranks Gallbladder Removal Complications as Leading Source of Surgical Malpractice Claims

Every year as many as 1.2 million laparoscopic cholecystectomies (CCY) (or gallbladder removal surgery) are performed in the U.S. making it one of the most commonly performed operations in the country. While it is generally a low-risk surgery, a recent study noted major morbidity may occur in 5% of cases resulting in further injury or even death. The study focused on how to address the high number of malpractice claims arising from gallbladder removal and reduce the substantial toll it takes on patients and doctors.

Gallbladder removal is performed because of cancer of the gallbladder or to relieve severe acute or chronic pain or other problems arising from gallstones. Laparoscopic cholecystectomy is more common than traditional open surgery because it is less invasive and recovery time is shorter. However, open surgery may be the better option when the gallbladder is severely diseased, there were prior abdominal surgeries, or other issues which prevent laparoscopic surgery. In some instances, surgeons begin laparoscopic surgery, but must switch to open surgery due to complications. Risks of surgery include bile leak; bleeding; blood clots; infection; injury to the bile duct, liver or small intestines; heart problems; pancreatitis; and pneumonia. Accidental clamping of the common bile duct (rather than the cystic duct) is the most common complication and can be particularly dangerous, resulting in injuries that are catastrophic if not promptly recognized and treated. Patients exhibiting symptoms such as fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, swelling, jaundice and other symptoms should be thoroughly examined by a doctor for possible post-surgery complications.

Malpractice claims arise most commonly because of a “technical” problem during surgery. According to the study, 77% of malpractice claims had “at least 1 major contributing factor that was technical in nature, … such as misidentification of an anatomical structure or improperly utilized equipment. Clinical judgment was the second most common contributing factor (60% of claims), and includes factors such as failure in ordering a diagnostic test, delay in selection of appropriate therapy, and failure or delay in obtaining a referral after a complication occurred.”

Other significant contributing factors in malpractice claims include poor communication between patient and provider; documentation problems; and behavior-related contributing factors such as patient noncompliance with clinical recommendations.

The study noted that 60% of claims did not result in patient payout. As a result, it is particularly important to have the right experts involved in evaluating the case. Depending on the basis of the claim, doctors and attorneys may need experts who can advise regarding the technical aspects of CCY, safe surgical practices generally, and recommended perioperative care and communication.

If you need assistance finding a qualified expert witness, contact Elite Medical Experts.